20 questions: Michael A. Smerconish

What got you interested in being a radio host?

I had unique political experiences at an early age. I literally carried Bush 41’s bags while I was still in college, and that experience expanded to different roles in campaigns, which in turn turned into a role as a talking head. And the ego of it consumed me. I realized, “I can do this. I’m good at this. I enjoy this.”

What are some of the more mundane topics you discuss on your shows?

My program specializes in the mundane. If you were to come into my radio office and look above my desk, you’re not going to see a portrait of Rush Limbaugh or Paul Harvey. You’re going to see a publicity shot that’s personalized to me of [“Seinfeld” co-creator] Larry David. From him I learned that shows about nothing can be awfully good shows.

Guns and abortion may make your phones ring, but they’re not good talk radio — because they appeal to the fringe, and everybody’s heard that before, and it’s not compelling. My best radio has been about everyday life occurrences.

How would you describe your political philosophy?

If you’re looking to label me, it would be “reasonable.” I’ve done every one of the [cable news] shows that you can think of, and oftentimes they’ll put a label of “conservative.” But if somebody who doesn’t care about two guys hooking up, supports legalizing pot and prostitution, and long ago thought we should’ve gotten out of Iraq is a conservative, then I am one.

Are political labels helpful?

No, I think that they are counterproductive. I think that labeling is a television and radio fiction. That’s something I discuss at length in the book. There’s an artificial view of America on TV where everyone is either a hardcore conservative or a very liberal individual. The only people I know who line up entirely on one side or entirely on the other are the people I meet on TV.

You support gay marriage, right? What do you think about the latest wave of states legalizing it?

I’m not sure about the semantics about the word “marriage,” but I’m supportive of rights extended to same-sex couples. I think it’s bull — that, because I’m married, two guys — what they do has no bearing on my marriage.

My expectation is that [full rights] will happen in the future. I just think that it’s one of those things that over time, it will take place.

You voted for Obama. How do you think he’s doing so far?

So far, so good. I don’t think there have been any surprises. I think that he has governed the way that he said that he would. The only people who should be surprised are those who bought into the urban legend that he would be a radical.

How do you think the Democratic-led 111th Congress is doing?

I don’t know that the Congress has distinguished itself. I think that [Obama] has provided the leadership, and I don’t think they have done anything good or bad to distinguish themselves either way.

Any favorite or least favorite members of Congress?

I’m represented by Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) in the Senate, and I have the utmost respect for him … To lose a good guy like him would be horrible.

What’s your prescription for the GOP right now?

My prescription for the GOP is to re-evaluate what they stand for, and if they take a page out of my book, they will be for strong defense, they will be for limited government, and they will be libertarian on social issues. Gay rights, stem cell research, abortion — end the litmus tests, (a) because it’s the right thing to do and (b) because it’s good politics.

 Who do you think are the up-and-coming stars of either party?

Let me focus on the Republican side of the aisle. Let me tell who does not . . .  represent the future of the Republican Party, and those are Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin and the usual suspects, because I think they’ve gone too far to placate the Republican Party, and this is a race that needs to be won in the middle.

That’s what the Republican Party needs to do, is grow the tent, and not with the same names. We need some new blood and some new leadership.

Would you ever run for elected office?

When I was in law school and 24 years old, I did run for the Pennsylvania state Legislature. I lost by 419 votes. It was a fabulous experience, but those days are over. And as I like to joke, I have since located 230 of those people.

A news release about you says you were an activist in high school. Tell me about that.

In high school I was suspended once for flicking a moon — that was the only way I distinguished myself in high school.

How do you inscribe your books when you autograph them?

It depends how many people, if you want the honest answer. I’ve done a lot of book signings, and it’s entirely a function of the crowd. If it’s just a few people, I’ll write a new manuscript. If it’s a big crowd, it’s usually “Best wishes.”

You mention in your book a Muzzle Meter. What is it?

I wrote a book on political correctness called Muzzled, and an outgrowth of that book is a device I use on my show called the Muzzle Meter. It’s a standard by which I judge speech with politically correct implications.

Who’s buzzing away on your Muzzle Meter these days?

There haven’t been any recent incidents of this sort of speech. The standard was Mel Gibson when he did his anti-Semitic tirade when he was arrested for a DUI. I think he got a 10. And yet Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenGiuliani doubles down on Biden comments: 'I meant that he’s dumb' Meghan McCain shreds Giuliani for calling Biden a 'mentally deficient idiot' Dems say Obama return from sidelines is overdue MORE, if you remember, when he complimented Obama on being articulate, and people took umbrage to that, I think I gave Biden a 1.

In your book you propose two-term limits in the Senate and six-term limits in the House. How would institutional knowledge be passed on?

That could be an asset. I’m not so sure that institutional knowledge across the board is a good thing. The advantages of having new blood is people who have to go out and earn a living in the private sector.

You write that you want a political party with room for anti-abortion and pro-abortion views. Why?

I attended both conventions [last year]. I paid attention to the platforms even if nobody else did. What appalled me is that there wasn’t an exception [in the GOP platform] even for rape or incest. I think that’s an extreme view, and I think that line in the sand draws many people away from the party. I’m not for litmus tests.

Have you found your political doppelganger? Who do you think most resembles your philosophy?

In appearance, Ed Harris is the guy I usually get. In politics, I don’t know that there’s one person. I’m clearly someone who comes from the diminishing herd of moderate Republicans.

You mention you like practical jokes. Do you have one cooking right now?

Yes, I did, as a matter of fact. [For April Fools’ Day] I brought a fictitious member of Congress on my show. We called him Congressman Schwerbitz. Donald Shwerbitz. I have now done this for three years running.

Schwerbitz comes on, and his premise is that the world has only 21 more years of oxygen. And so what he’s going to do to expand the world oxygen supply is introduce legislation where everyone has to wear a nostril plug in one nostril.

Did listeners buy it?

People go bat-crazy about this. They call in livid that this is global warming.

You aren’t wearing pants on your book-cover photo. Is that how you normally go about your day?

That was me trying to say that within these pages lies sort of an unveiling of sort of what goes on behind the scenes of TV and talk shows. I went back and forth on this with the publisher, and I’m so glad I won out.

Kris Kitto

To recommend a political personality for 20 Questions, call Kris Kitto at (202)628-8539 or e-mail him at kkitto@thehill.com.